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January Florida citrus forecast reduced; further decreases possible

by Chip Carter | January 11, 2011
TAMPA, FL -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture released a revised January crop estimate Jan. 12 that shows a reduction in orange production of 3 million boxes, with damage totals from late December freezing weather yet to be tallied.

The new figures from the USDA show a drop from an original January estimate of 143 million boxes to 140 million boxes. Most of the reduction is due to smaller fruit size than anticipated rather than freeze losses.

Michael Sparks, executive vice president and chief executive officer of Lakeland-based Florida Citrus Mutual, said that the estimate shows "some preliminary effects" of a half-dozen nights of sub-freezing weather spread over three weeks in December, but primarily reflects smaller fruit size.

"While the industry as a whole came through the cold in decent shape, we did have frozen fruit and leaf damage across most of the growing regions as well as more extensive damage in a few select areas, and this report reflects that," Mr. Sparks said.

Surveyors from the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service, Florida Field Office, tallied the damage in Florida groves in a special survey conducted Jan. 10-11. A full report on citrus damage showing the results of that survey is expected Jan. 18.

Some Florida citrus growers do not think the special survey will show a dramatic impact from December's cold. Many growers salvaged the December crop for juice following the cold snaps and were readying to transition to mid-season varieties at the start of the new year. Others made it through the freezes with minimal damage.

"We seem to have fared very well through those cold nights in December," said Al Finch of Florida Classic Growers in Lake Hamilton, FL. "We had a tremendous first half of the season. We had good volume, good arrivals, and the demand was very good for Florida citrus, especially for Sunburst tangerines and Navels. We had a little larger crop of those, so we've been able to stretch that season into January."

Mr. Finch also said that the midseason crop is showing gains in size over early-season varieties, which were smaller than normal in all production areas of Florida.

The USDA estimate for grapefruit remained unchanged at 19.6 million boxes. The forecast for early and midseason varieties in Florida shrunk by 1 million boxes, to 67 million boxes, while the projection for Valencias decreased by 2 million boxes, to 73 million boxes.

For Florida specialty fruit, the USDA's tangelo estimate was reduced by 100,000 boxes, to 1 million boxes, while the tangerine forecast was reduced by 200,000 boxes, to 4.2 million boxes.